One month supporting humanitarian agencies in Vanuatu

Well over 100 volunteers from across the globe dedicated their time and skills online over the past month to support the humanitarian response in Vanuatu.

One month ago a category 5 storm swept across many of the islands that make up Vanuatu affecting 166,600 people.

Activation one

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs requested help through the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). Standby Task Force undertook two of the three tasks requested of the DHN.

Standby Task Force volunteers created a database of information needed by humanitarian aid workers based in or arriving in Vanuatu. The database contained contact details for international staff actually in Vanuatu, assessments undertaken by humanitarian agencies, relevant maps, details of which agencies across the globe said they were responding and what they were doing. Within five days the database contained over 5,000 separate pieces of information. Simon Johnson from British Red Cross created this tool which is based on some of the data in the Stadby Task Force database.

Graph to the left and a map to the right








Standby Task Force volunteers also searched for tweets about the storm. They identified pictures and videos of damage and flooding. Then they verified, categorised and mapped the images.

The resulting maps can be seen online here: and here:

Map of damage photos









The Standby Task Force stood down at 2200 UTC on Mar 22 2015.

Activation Two

We were then activated again on April 5 2015 by the Government of Vanuatu and the World Bank via the DHN. Our task on this occasion was to examine photographs taken from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that had flown over many of Vanuatu’s affected islands. Volunteers traced the outlines of damaged properties and logged the degree of damage. We used the MicroMappers platform which ensures that each picture was assessed by at least three different volunteers. Micromappers is developed by QCRI

Over 2,500 different images were assessed in this way. Volunteers identified and traced 1,696 destroyed houses, 1,298 partially damaged houses and 3,967 houses with little-to-no damage (note: these figures do not correspond to unique houses). The platform ensures that each picture is seen by at least three people so volunteers actually traced 7,500 images. This was the first time UAV tech was used for crowdsourced assessment and verification. Patrick Meier has written more about this on his blog.

The resulting maps can be seen here:

The Standby Task Force stood down at 0900 UTC on April 14 2015.

Vanuatu still needs help

The people of Vanuatu still need support from the global community. Standby Task Force volunteers have helped to strengthen and improve the humanitarian response.

The UN estimates that US$29.9m is required immediately and has launched a flash appeal.

We are a global network of digital humanitarians ready to respond at short notice to support humanitarian agencies on the ground in disaster zones to process open source data and create crisis maps and databases.

Update #5 on Vanuatu (second deployment)

The situation at 1500 UTC April 11 2015

What a weekend.

On the one hand loads of volunteers are taking part in our “polygon-a-thon” (that’s what Joyce calls it) to help the government of Vanuatu and the World Bank get a handle on housing damage across the islands.

You can see the results of all your efforts on this map

And at the same time loads more volunteers (and in some cases the same volunteers) are helping CODE with election monitoring in Nigeria. Not an official activation but so many of you have responded to the request for volunteers.

There is still more to do

The MicroMappers are making good progress but they still need plenty of help. Don’t forget this is a really simple deployment, you don’t need lots of experience or training and any time you can give, even just five minutes, will make a real difference.

There is more information (for SBTF members only I’m afraid) on the Ning.

Vanuatu a month after Cyclone Pam

It is nearly a month since Cyclone Pam, a category five storm swept across the islands of Vanuatu.

We know, because we built the initial resource collecting data about which agencies were responding, that a huge range of organisations have responded to the situation in Vanuatu.

Many of those organisations have been reporting on their efforts on their blogs and news sites. Unicef and the Red Cross have been working to get assistance to remote and small communities.

While the Disaster Arborist Response Team sent tree surgeons

Over on the Humans of Vanuatu Facebook page there is a more personal view of how the situation is progressing.

Like this update from a couple of days ago

“Forgive the nostalgia, but I can’t help feeling sadness when I think about how green my islands used to be. I know it’s coming back, but I confess that I still feel actual distress when I see the landscape today.”

Update #8 on Vanuatu and on our deployment there

Status of our deployment

Our deployment has been extended until 2300 UTC Sunday.

Our MicroMapping work has ended but volunteers are still mapping data where this will be useful to responders. Like this map of hotels and their status (open/damaged/closed etc) across the country

All our efforts are now focused on building the best information resource we can to assist responding agencies. We can really help speed things up and reduce duplication and waste by pulling all the key information together into a single place. There are 880 line items in our resource right now but we know there is more information out there.

It’s a hard grind now because we already have so much data collated but this is where we potentially add the most value. By hunting out the details that responders will find hardest to locate, we have the chance to save humanitarian agencies the most time.

We tried to give a flavour of how our resources are being used in yesterday’s update which is available on the Ning and on the Blog in case you missed it.

One last push to the line

So many of you have already worked so hard. The finish line is in sight now. We’re asking for one final push to provide the best resource we can to help the international community help the people of Vanuatu.

We still need volunteers and coordinators right up to 2300 UTC Sunday.

There is still work for new volunteers. In fact new volunteers might help bring new perspectives to the task.

If you haven’t signed up yet, there is still time to do so.

Feel free to contact any of us direct if you have any questions before signing up.

  • The situation at 1400 UTC 21 March 2015
  • The Government of Vanuatu has prioritised Shelter, Water, Health and Food assistance for the initial emergency response. Transport of relief items to provinces is now underway.
  • The Vanuatu Mobile Force is helping to deliver water on Efate. Clean drinking water remains a critical need.
  • A food assistance program will target 33,365 households (162,000 people) in affected regions.
  • 3,995 people are currently housed in 39 evacuation centres in and around Port Vila.
  • 16 people are now confirmed dead.


This is from a statement issued yesterday by the (UN) Humanitarian Coordinator for Vanuatu, Osnat Lubrani

I have been briefed by a UN assessment team that returned today from the islands of Ngona, Pele and Emau, three of the most remote northern islands. Water is a serious problem, with the contamination of water sources a grave health threat, particularly to children. Food stocks are limited as vegetable gardens have been wiped out – a concern for food security and as a source of livelihoods. Several of the health centres and schools have been severely damaged.


Despite the devastation, it is clear that preparedness measures taken by the Government, including the use of traditional building materials, community sensitization and well-drilled early warning systems helped reduce the impact of this disaster.

Keep in touch

If you’ve got any questions, comments, or suggestions then drop me or anyone in the core team an email or ask in the SBTF general chat room on Skype. or

Know hope SBTF.

Update #2 on Vanuatu for SBTF members and call for volunteers

This is an update on the situation as we understand it with regards to Vanuatu, an assessment of the likelihood of an activation, and a call for volunteers to help with planning and preparation.

The situation at 1900 UTC 15 March 2015

Vanuatu (population 264,700) was hit by a Cat 5 storm (Pam) on 13 March 2015.

Peter Walton, head of international programs for the Red Cross in Vanuatu reports that the humanitarian needs are enormous. Shelter, food and water are urgent priorities right now. (Humanity Road has a detailed sitrep

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team has initiated two mapping tasks for the area tracked by Pam and

There is concern for the southern-most islands of Tafea Province (total population 32,540), which was directly struck by the eye wall and is without communication. The northern islands of Sanma, Penama and Torba Provinces (population 86,000) are also expected to have been heavily impacted as the cyclone headed south-southwest towards the capital. Communication was cut for many hours but some phone lines and internet access are becoming available.

Call for Standby Task Force volunteers

The Standby Task Force has not yet been activated.

We do, however, need some support from the network. Please help if you can.

There are advance tasks that Jus has been working on. We really need some volunteers to help with these.

They include

  • Collecting all photos, uploading to map for visual reference of situation
  • Monitoring and cleaning data from AIDR, pulling information from the csv from AIDR to respond to specific questions from organisations
  • Search the Internet for incidents, e.g. reports, maps, contact lists that will help us (and partners) keep up to date with the evolving situation
  • We also need volunteers to improve the accuracy of our photomap now that the basemap has been updated

I’ve you are able to volunteer with any of these tasks starting immediately and over the next 24-48 hours, please add your details to this Google Doc

Any questions, contact Jus or Stuart from the core team.

Jus is skype: fidget01

Stuart is skype: stuart.costello5

Or just ask in the general skype chat room.

Likelihood of activation

We now think it is very likely that we will receive an activation request over the next 24 hrs. This is likely to be a very significant activation and we will need as many volunteers as possible. If there is anything you can do to free up time over the coming week, we’d really appreciate it.

We have a published set of activation criteria.

Please continue to keep an eye on your emails, the Ning, Facebook and the main Skype chat and be ready to volunteer.

We’ll keep you informed as the situation develops.

Keep in touch

If you’ve got any questions, comments, suggestions then drop me or anyone in the core team an email or ask in the SBTF general chat room on Skype. or

Thanks, and I know we all keep the people of Vanuatu in our thoughts and hearts

SBTF Needs You: Rewriting our FAQs, Your Input Needed

It is a great feeling when you are down to those final pieces of a puzzle.  A triumphant buzz runs through you when you understand how something works.  Those moments when the light-bulb shines bright are some of the most satisfying.  We need your help to keep those lights burning.

We have been working hard behind the scenes to bring you the best that being a digital volunteer has to offer. New tools, new training opportunities, updated web content, and refined teams.  As a part of this, we are rewriting our Frequently Asked Questions.

The field we work in is a dynamic and changing space; for which there is no clearly defined step by step guide on how we get to the future.

We turn to you, our great team of friends and volunteers.

We invite you to please help by telling us which questions would help you, and others, most as volunteers. Lingering questions that you had but did not ask during your last deployment?  Have you been a member, but not volunteered yet? Want to learn more about a specific team or the tools we use?  Ask, ask, ask away.

Our previous Frequently Asked Questions document contains outdated questions, teams, and tools.  We will leave it live while we rewrite the new FAQ section.  The link below is to the GoogleDocument spreadsheet where you can anonymously ask the deep dark questions that you have always wondered, but never dared ask.

On the spreadsheet, we have broken down a few example questions into  suggested categories, including an ‘Other’ section.  Feel free to add more categories and as many questions as you feel relevant. We will leave the document open for a little over a week so that you have time to dig deep and remember any searing questions that you may have had when joining through now.

We are excited to collaborate with you to update this key resource.  Thank you and Happy Helping!



World Disasters Report 2013: Technology and the Future of Humanitarian Action

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The World Disasters Report 2013, just released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, examines the profound impact of technological innovations on humanitarian action, how humanitarians employ technology in new and creative ways, and what risks and opportunities may emerge as a result of technological innovations. We’re proud to say that the Standby Task Force (SBTF) is referenced in several areas of this prominent report.

“The responsible use of technology offers concrete ways to make humanitarian assistance more effective, efficient and accountable and can, in turn, directly reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience. Finding ways for advances in technology to serve the most vulnerable is a moral imperative; a responsibility, not a choice.

World Disasters Report offers detailed discussion of many challenges in humanitarian technology which, left unaddressed, could temper the enthusiasm for such new technologies. Greater information sharing and more data collection bring risks of information misuse and compromised data security and privacy. Concerns over data protection and the security of information sources are legitimate, but the actual risk may vary and need to be carefully analysed in relation to benefits.”

To read more, access the full report here:

How AI, Twitter and Digital Volunteers are Transforming Humanitarian Disaster Response

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Great article by Katie Collins on on how the Standby Task Force, QCRI, UN OCHA, the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and others worked together to use the new tool MicroMappers in response to the earthquake that took place in Pakistan on September 24th, 2013. A big thank you to our 100 volunteers that took part in the response!

“On 24 September a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck south-west Pakistan, killing at least 300 people. The following day Patrick Meier at the Qatar Computer Research Institute (QCRI) received a call from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) asking him to help deal with the digital fallout — the thousands of tweets, photos and videos that were being posted on the web containing potentially valuable information about the disaster.

To help make sense of the outpouring of data, Meier mobilised two new tools he had created, but had yet to release. The first, MicroMappers is a series of microtasking apps (called Clickers), which can be used to tag the mass of online user-generated multimedia content relating to a disaster to establish its importance. OCHA also reached out to the Digital Humanitairan Network (DHN), which mobilised the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) to work with Meier’s tools. The volunteers set to work and within the first few hours, 35,000 relevant tweets had been collected.

From there the tweets were uploaded to the TweetClicker, and those with images filtered into the ImageClicker to be analysed and tagged depending on the type of information they contained — infrastructure damage and requests for help, for example — so they could be distributed to the appropriate agencies. In all, 14,000 tweets were tweets and 341 images were collected by 100 volunteers in the first 30 hours….”

Continue reading the full article here:

How AI, Twitter and digital volunteers are transforming humanitarian disaster response []